Confronting the child beater next door – sucessfully


Gypsy Bohemia wrote a powerful account of domestic violence and child abuse in Sri Lanka. It left me wordless for a long while. This post grew in that silence and didn’t let me write anything else.

Gypsy’s post spotlights a citizen’s burden when confronted with a neighbour’s child abuse and domestic violence. It places questions of what can you do if you know child abuse/domestic violence is going on next door in to cruel light of reality. This is Sri Lanka where nothing ever seems that simple. In the grind of third world life, the situation poses complexities, ambiguities and dangers. It seems hopeless but it’s actually not. Part of getting over the hopelessness hurdle is a hard look at the options and sharing information. This is where bloggers can contribute to something positive.

The obvious off the cuff answer to domestic violence next door is to call the police. If the violence is life threatening this could be the only answer – short of breaking down the door and charging in to the rescue.
Looming over any type of intervention is the social taboo about poking one’s finger into other people’s family matters. It’s completely different if that situation was in your own family where it is socially acceptable if not expected for extended family to intervene. Unknown neighbours in an urban setting are a different matter.

The abuser could be anybody – worst case scenario: a politically linked character which these days means the possibility of an organised crime connection. Their rage at being interfered with could seriously threaten your safety. Yes, I am taking fear and paranoia to suppositional extremes but we do live in a vut tu du society where the fears inspired by the greater hopelessness drains the possibility from practically every thought

Minding your own business in despair, fear or whatever reason doesn’t work. The constant grind of listening to domestic violence through the wall is damaging. It is a psychological pollutant. Equivalent to living down wind from Chernobyl or on a toxic landfill. 

So what can you do to intervene in a neighbour’s child abuse/domestic violence situation — while protecting yourself and family? The first step is to define the desired results of intervening.

In the abstract, the ideal “intervention” would result in:

  • the abuse stopping without reoccuring
  • the abused going through a process of healing/recovery
  • the abuser realising the error of their ways and also undergoing some form of guided behaviour change.

But life is not abstract. The concrete steps of how to go about achieving even a fraction of those goals is crawl in an unfamiliar jungle. A quiet chat with the neighbour after things have cooled down? Ask him to beat his family quietly? A super hero like forced entry to confront the abuser? The more “realistic” call the police and hope the abuser is not a “connected” person? 

Muddying the situation is the fact that abusive behaviour is an expression of deeper problems. Alcoholism, dynamics of the couple’s marriage, psychological disorders, financial constraints, fucked up extended family politics (we have all heard about at least one). Bizarreness of reality extends the list beyond even the most pessimistic human mind.

Obviously a successful course of action depends on the specific dynamics of the situation. It requires an understanding of the personalities involved and their backgrounds. Levels of intoxication, degree of actual or potential violence are other variables that go into the intervention strategy calculation. Essentially an intelligence gathering exercise so you have a better understanding of how the abuser might react.

Neighbours will have to be sounded out, perhaps persuaded to back you up if it boils down to a confrontation on a humid night. Raised voices, sweat drenched glares, and the arrack fumed abuser with a broken bottle or a kitchen knife glinting in his fist. Not what you want to deal with from a hard day at the office and a crawl home through the traffic and the check points.

Even if the abuser is hauled away there may be a family to be sheltered. Court cases to attend. And yes perhaps shifty characters to deal with. Only finding out the details of the situation will decide if these suppositions are paranoid ghosts or a reality to prepare for.

It all adds up to a hard lonely slog. Amidst the frantic life lived in a wartime third world country during a global recession. Seems rather hopeless no? It need no be.

Knowledge is key to evaporating the despair, guilt, fear and frustration. A clear understanding of your rights, the legal landscape of the “intervention” options, etc. will help. There has to be organisations that exists to deal with domestic violence situations- interventions and the legal/psychological and economic fall out.

Right now I don’t know what they are and google won’t tell me – just yet. I’m just a busy bullshit blogger who thankfully never had to deal with the kind of hell the Gypsy writes about and has to deal with. 

Yet don’t think that intervention in domestic violence has to rest in the hands of a lone hero acting on the spur of the moment. I think concrete information can remove a lot of the fear and uncertainty out of organising and implementing a successful intervention. It is not something you can do alone. So time for communal brainstorm.

What organisations/resources can a person in Sri Lanka go to ensure a successful intervention occurs in a domestic violence situation? Any tips/suggestions/recomendations/past experience? What about the legal angle? How should you deal with the police? What things should you prepare for? Who could help the victims with issues of shelter/economic support if the abuser is also the only bread winner and needs to be locked up?

Messy messy questions. But the blogosphere has fantastic capacity to build a body of knowledge from tiny contributions. Or we can shrug and go back to trolling and blog fighting.

The comment box awaits your choices and hopefully your helpful words.

5 comments

  1. Cerno this is indeed a sad but thought provoking topic and post. I think that there’s no straight answer to the question of what to do. The circumstances need to be considered for each individual case before one decides on the approach.

    Crazy. mad but true is the regrettable fact that sometimes a person might decided it’s best not to do anything, but hopefully positive action can be taken to stop the violence and make things better. The chaos of Sri Lanka, with the added danger of the perpetrator being connected, makes the dilemna an even bigger one than it might be over here in London.

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  2. I’ve intervened – here’s how (all this happened in India). I got hold of an NGO dealing in violence against women. Found out the neighbors boss and told the boss – who confronted him. He must have got an awful shock. We made up a team of 3 influential women – wife of a newspaper chief, a doctor and the NGO worker and went to the neighbours house, in the daytime. We did our inspection, proved to him, by examing the child’s fresh wounds etc and scared him badly. The child was a servant girl his family had ‘adopted’ from her parents as a ‘daughter’.
    Well, it ended by him later sending the girl back to her parents.
    Your imagination is as good as mine as to the long term future of this child. But, I could not be a silent witness. The NGO lady said, things don’t always have a romantic perfect end – but we do what we can.

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  3. RD: Quite true. I think it is too much to expect a lone outsider to take on dangers and the responsibility of intervening. Specially if the “intervention” is one temporary and makes things worse.

    emm: Thank you for that hopeful story open ended and uncertain as it is.

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  4. Hi Cerno, great post. Thank goodness I don’t have to live with and deal with the situation I wrote about. I’m doing something in relation to domestic violence at work and it just inspired me to write.

    It’s purely fictional — but then again not, because I know it happens. I just tried to present how I thought the average person would see it. They hear it. They see the evidence, they feel incredible sympathy for the victims but feel they can’t do anything about it. Doesn’t make them evil; only human.

    But as you say, it should not be that way.

    As an aside, there was this incredibly powerful advert I saw on Australian television in their campaign against domestic violence –

    There’s this couple in their apartment listening to a fight going on next door. It’s obvious the woman is getting badly slapped around by her husband. So the couple listening look at each other, really agitated and uncomfortable until finally the man gets up and grabs a baseball bat and heads out across the hall. He knocks on the door of the apartment where the fight is going on and this rough looking guy opens up. His wife is standing tear stained and relieved behind him. The guy outside hands the guy inside the baseball bat and leaves.

    The caption reads – “doing nothing only makes it worse” or something to that effect.

    I thought the ad was really something, because everyone thinks the guy is going out there to help. It really sort of socks you in the gut and makes you take a good long think at what you’d do in that situation. The post was kind of inspired by that as well.

    Anyway. This was long, sorry! Again, great post.

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  5. thebohemiangypsy: Credit to you as writer that you convinced me it was true😀 It also did get me thinking – if I had just moved in to one of those high rise apt sprouting up in Colombo and the couple next door were in a abusive situation what would I do? It does boiled dow to a bewildering array of practical options. Never though out the option before like that..
    Thank YOU for the post (and the comment😉

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